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Streets of Denver

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October 30, 2015 by Pamela Nowak

This week, I’m exploring the streets of Denver. Many of the streets in Lower Downtown (LoDo) were named for town founders.

Denver’s Larimer Street was named after William Larimer, the leader of the group of men who came to the area from Kansas in 1858. Larimer took over the existing mining claim, preferring the east side of Cherry Creek because it was higher ground and closer to the existing trails. He renamed it Denver City after James W. Denver, governor of Kansas.

Lawrence Street was named for another member of Larimer’s party, Charles Lawrence.

Blake Street was named after Charles H. Blake. Blake arrived in 1858 and set up the first retail business in Auraria. He was an original founder of and stockholder in the Denver Town Company. During the 1860s, Blake Street was Denver’s principal street and was home to saloons, gambling houses, boarding houses, blacksmith shops, banks, retail businesses, and corrals.

Wynkoop Street was named for Edward W. (Ned) Wynkoop. Wynkoop was the first sheriff of Denver City (1858) and was one of the first shareholders in the Denver Town Company. He was also a member of the St. Charles Company, an Indian agent, and an actor. Much of the street used to be covered by railroad tracks and the area was known as Warehouse Row during the era when railroads merged there.

Today’s Market Street was originally named McGaa Street, after William McGaa. McGaa was among the first Denverites and, with William Larimer, named most of the early streets. The name of the street was changed to Holladay Street in 1866 to honor Ben Holladay.

In fact,several of Denver’s streets’ names were influenced by William McGaa. McGaa was a mountain man who had camped on the banks of Cherry Creek prior to the founding of Denver City. His association with the local Arapaho led William Larimer to involve McGaa in the settlement of the early community.

McGaa claimed relationships (by marriage) with numerous Native American tribes and, on behalf of these wives, conveyed land to Larimer and other town founders. Though he was known to have an Arapaho wife who often dressed in popular Victorian fashion, no one knows if all of these relationships existed in fact nor whether McGaa possessed any authority in this regard. It is doubtful that he did.

By most accounts, McGaa was not widely admired. His city lots were revoked when he failed to improve them. He was most known for his boasting and tall tales as well as his drinking habits and his role in the settlement of Denver was more prominent in his own view than it was in others’.

He supposedly asked that several streets be names after his wives: Wewatta, Wazee, and Champa (Sioux for chokecherry). He also is said to have requested one honor his ancestral castle in Scotland: Glenarm Place. Finally, McGaa Street was also named for him. McGaa Street was renamed Holladay Street (now Market Street) in 1866 when McGaa fell out of favor with locals.

Holladay was a partner in the Center Overland, California, and Pikes Peak Express Company Stagecoach Lines. The street was known for its open-air meat and produce markets at its south end, near Cherry Creek and became a residential neighborhood north of 23rd Street. However, the area between 19th and 22nd Streets developed into a red-light district known as “the Row.”

The Holladay family petitioned the city of Denver for a name change in 1889 and the street was renamed as Market Street (south) and Walnut Street (north).

While Hop Alley wasn’t a Denver street, it was a well-known small multi-block Chinese business and residential neighborhood in early Denver. Many of the first Chinese settled on Wazee, between 16th and 17th Streets. Displaced railroad workers and migrants from the California gold fields made up much of the population. By 1870, the Asian concentration shifted to an area between Blake and Market Streets and received its nickname. Most were single men, many ran laundries. In 1880, there were 238 Chinese living in Denver (out of 35,629 total).

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